Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Villains Are People Too

Congratulations to Tammy Y, the winner of Joan's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated.

Memorable, compelling characters—that's what good fiction boils down to.  And, yes, this includes your villains.

Your villain was an innocent child once. What changed? Why did it change? And most importantly, most revealing...how did he change in reaction to those events?

The challenges we face throughout life and how we respond to them shape the internal landscapes of each of us--in both good and bad ways.  Which means your villain has both good and bad qualities.

No one is bad all the time. Villains need positive traits, too. Traits that make him sympathetic to the reader. Traits that allow the reader to empathize, maybe even identify with the villain in a small way. Understand how he became what he had become, because if a reader can’t relate to your villain in any way, they will be disconnect and less invested in your story’s outcome.

For the sake of example, let's say your villain's father was oppressive.

That one element could create a variety of negative issues for your villain:
  • Maybe...the lack of all control made him crave it once he broke out on his own
  • Maybe...he developed a hatred of certain types of men
  • Maybe...he developed a hatred for women who allow men to dominate...or maybe he developed a preference for passive women...or maybe he prefers the dominatrix
  • Maybe...he developed a hatred for women who allow their children to be mentally abused
  • Maybe...he developed a fetish, something that gave him pleasure or allowed him to escape the domination
  • Maybe...he mirrored his father's negative trait with his peers—became a bully, a gang leader...or maybe the opposite. Maybe he feared control and became a follower (note: this isn't a strong villainous trait, but might be a tendency he has, which would create great inner conflict.)
To illustrate how the same situation could produce positive qualities depending on the person, let's take the examples above and turn them around.

The same villain, the same oppressive father. How did that affect your villain in a positive way?
  • Maybe...the lack of control made him empathetic to others who lack control
  • Maybe...he learned the right and wrong way to wield control
  • Maybe...he learned to empathize with women who'd been in a controlling relationship
  • Maybe...that fetish he developed was writing about controlling fathers who always die a horrible death. (We all know writing is a fetish. :-)).
Your villain's unique personality—why will your readers remember him?

Like all characters, your villain's distinctive qualities should evolve organically. In other words, his uniqueness should stem from the way he reacted and internalized lifetime events (as shown above.)

There are as many reactions to a particular hardship as there are people on earth. We all know or have heard of a family—same parents, same home, same school, equal treatment—where two of the kids turn out successful, compassionate, well-adjusted, and one who turns out a repeat failure, selfish, a social reject.

Every living person is unique—thoughts, behaviors, preferences, dispositions, wants, dreams.
Apply that concept to your villain and watch him puff from a cardboard cutout into a living, breathing bad guy.

How do you add dimension to your villains?  What author do you feel does a stellar job of crafting villains?

Author Bio:  Joan Swan is a triple RWA® Golden Heart finalist and writes sexy romantic suspense with a paranormal twist.  Her debut novel with Kensington Brava, FEVER, releases February 28, 2012.  Her second novel, BLAZE, follows in October, 2012. In her day job, she works as a sonographer for one of the top ten medical facilities in the nation and lives on the California central coast in beautiful wine country with her husband and two daughters.

Book Blurb:  Release Date: 2/28

Dr. Alyssa Foster will admit to a bad boy fetish…
But when she finds herself face to face with a convicted murderer with determination for freedom and an eye on her as his get out of jail free card, Alyssa knows she’s in deep trouble…. Not just because Teague Creek is a prisoner desperate for freedom, but because his every touch makes her desperate for more.

A man with a life sentence has nothing to lose…

Teague Creek has one shot at freedom, but his plan to escape with a hostage develops a fatal flaw: Alyssa. On the run from both the law and deadly undercover operatives who know of his strange abilities, he needs to avoid trouble, but every heated kiss tells him the fire between them could be just as devastating as the flames that changed him forever.

Buy links:  AmazonBarnes & Noble | Booksamillion

My links:  Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


*A print copy of FEVER, US/Canada shipping.
*All comments are eligible for tour grand prize of either a COLOR NOOK or KINDLE FIRE. Enter: http://joanswan.com/giveaways/blog-tour-ereader/

Giveaway ends 10pm EST March 20th. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email justromanticsuspense @ gmail.com with a subject title of JRS GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway.  


  1. And bad boys make such good enemies!!! You have to love them, to save them. I'm looking forward to reading Fever.

    dsadler53 at yahoo dot ca

  2. Gotta love a bad boy. We always think we can redeem them. Can't wait to read Fever. Sounds amazing.


    1. Maybe that's their appeal. It's a little mysterious. Thanks Joanne, hope you LOVE Fever!

  3. We all love the bad boys, just something sinful about than. Love to win a copy of Fever.

    Gator_trish at msn dot com

    1. Ah, yes, maybe it's the sinful edge. That is delicious!

  4. Have a little of the bad boy fetish myself. I always felt that I could reform them. It worked for one for sure, we have been together for 17 years now.
    This is a new author for me and would love to win and read this book. Love the cover and the tattoo. Thanks for the giveaway.

    1. Oh, you caught yourself a bad boy!! Lucky you!!

  5. I agree with everyone, you gotta love the bad boy.

    Thanks for the giveaway. My email is lmyost@roadrunner.com

  6. Also in total agreement with loving the bad boy. Thank you.


  7. Hi Joan,

    I loved bad boys since Han Solo in the Star Wars movie. I would love to win your book!


  8. I am always amazed when the villian gets his own book and I end up liking them and feel sorry for them.

    Great blog post title ;)

    theangrypollo{ AT }yahoo{DOT }com

  9. who doesn't love them a bad boy? Their stories usually make for the best reads!!!! Yep, stalking you here too!!! Great interview!

    1. Hey Traci! Stalk away :) Yes, the bad boys are awesome!

  10. I really like this post. When I read a story I like to be able to connect with all the characters including the villains. Even if I agree or don't agree with their actions at least I can see where they have come from and what is going on in their minds. It gives a story more depth. Yes, they are people too. Their thoughts, reasoning and motivation are interesting.


    1. Agreed, Na. You don't have to agree or like or whatever. But you do have to understand to be able to correlate with their deeper meaning within the story. Good point!

  11. I love villains. I think Lisa Gardner writes terrific villains that scare the crap out of me. Good luck with your wonderful book, Joan :)

    1. Hi Toni, Yes, Lisa does great villains! (along with just awesome books overall :))

  12. Well,he looks very nice, would like to read about him please

  13. I enjoyed your post. Villains make good heroes in books.


  14. This is a great post on villains Joan,thank you.
    I like Dean R. Koontz for his creation of villains. Add this in with fantastic suspense and it is the complete package.
    I read one of your interviews on another site and see that you are an excellent writer!
    Please enter me in your draw. I would like very much to read your books.

    1. Hi Janet! I agree with your assessment of Koontz, he's one of my favs! Have you read What the Night Knows. Amazing!

      Thanks much! Good luck in the drawing!

  15. Thanks for this post on villains. I love a bad boy - just irresistible! I'm so excited for this book!

    bas1chsemail at gmail dot com

  16. It looks like a great story.
    mce1011 AT aol DOT com

  17. Villains are net. evils, but they can be fun to read about also! Thanks!

    rjs4444us at yahoo dot com

  18. Great post. Giving understanding traits to a villain can be quite tough. I did actually read a book once that took a true villain that all you read about for 3 previous books was how horrible he was, and it was true. But in the book actually explain how he got to be the way he was and why and while you still thought he was evil and horrible you understood it. Tough to do but quite a amazing thing too.

  19. Two words "bad boys" - that is all I need. The bad boys always have a story. They didn't just decide to be a bad boy one day and set off to master the stereotype. All of my heroes that I lurve have a bad boy component. Some are bigger than others, but all have that soft side that few ever have the pleasure of experiencing. The villains that are villains don't appeal to me so much. The villains that are bad boys who just need to be understood are the best. It is that glimpse beyond the villain that makes them. Thanks so much for the post. And congratulations to the winner. You are in for a fabulous read with FEVER! :)



Sign up to receive our newsletter